Ukraine unit says Russian brigade flees outskirts of Bakhmut

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FILE PHOTO: Smoke erupts following a shell explosion in Bakhmut

KYIV (Reuters) -A Ukrainian military unit said on Wednesday it had routed a Russian infantry brigade from frontline territory near Bakhmut, claiming to confirm an account by the head of Russia's Wagner private army that the Russian forces had fled.

Later in the day, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who heads Ukraine's ground forces, said Russian units in some parts of Bakhmut had retreated by up to 2 km (1.2 miles) as the result of counterattacks. He did not give details.

Wagner units have led a months-long Russian assault on the eastern city, but Ukrainian forces say the offensive is stalling.

Moscow has not commented on reports that its 72nd Separate Motor-rifle Brigade had abandoned positions on the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the situation on the ground.

A Russian brigade is typically formed of several thousand troops. Bakhmut is the primary target of Moscow's huge winter offensive and scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar, writing on Telegram, said pro-Kyiv units had not lost a single position in Bakhmut on Wednesday.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Moscow's regular armed forces of failing to adequately support his men, said on Tuesday the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions.

"Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade pissed away three square km this morning, where I had lost around 500 men," Prigozhin said.


In a statement, Ukraine's Third Separate Assault Brigade said: "It's official. Prigozhin's report about the flight of Russia's 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the '500 corpses' of Russians left behind is true."

Ukraine's eastern military command said the Russian brigade had been heavily damaged, although it said Russia was still trying to capture the rest of the city.

"Unfortunately they have not destroyed the whole (Russian) brigade yet," Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, said in televised comments.

"The situation (in Bakhmut) remains difficult because for the enemy, despite all the white noise Prigozhin is trying to create, it (Bakhmut) is (still) the main direction of attack," he said.

Early on Wednesday the Third Separate Assault Brigade, which was formed last year from the nationalist Azov Battalion, reposted a video of one of Azov's founders, Andriy Biletsky, who said his forces had "defeated" the Russian brigade.

"The attacks were implemented within a territory 3 km wide and 2.6 km deep, and this entire territory is completely liberated from the Russian occupying forces," he said.

Since last week, Prigozhin has repeatedly threatened to pull Wagner out of Bakhmut unless Russia's regular armed forces send more ammunition. In his latest remarks on Wednesday he said his troops were receiving only 10% of the shells they needed.

As well as clashing repeatedly with Russia's defence ministry, Prigozhin has also expressed concerns about a long-promised Ukrainian counter-offensive to recapture some of the territory that Russia occupied after the 2022 invasion.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Olena Harmash, Pavel Polityuk and David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson)